Skip to Content

Biden vows to help veterans exposed to burn pits, saying he won’t repeat mistakes made after Vietnam War

<i>JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>President Joe Biden will travel to Fort Worth
AFP via Getty Images
President Joe Biden will travel to Fort Worth

By Maegan Vazquez, CNN

President Joe Biden on Tuesday vowed to help veterans exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan get the care they need, pledging that the United States would not make the same mistakes it did following Vietnam War, when veterans struggled to attain federal benefits after being exposed to Agent Orange.

The comments came during Biden’s trip to Fort Worth, Texas, where the President met with veterans and discussed a newly proposed federal rule that would add certain rare respiratory cancers believed to be tied to environmental exposures on the job to the list of disabilities considered to be connected to military service. He also called on Congress to pass legislation that would assist veterans exposed to toxic substances.

It’s an issue that hits close to home for the President.

Biden has said he believes burn pits may have caused the brain cancer that killed his son Beau — an Iraq War veteran who died in 2015 — but has noted he “can’t prove it yet.” Biden has vowed to fund research on the long-term effects of burn pit exposure, and since his son’s death, he’s launched several efforts to fund cancer research. Beau Biden’s cancer would not be covered by the proposed rule, but the President has made clear that supporting veterans and fighting cancer will be a key part of his administration’s agenda.

During his speech in Texas, the President said “it took far too long” for the VA to offer coverage for health issues following the Vietnam War.

“I refuse to repeat that mistake when it comes to veterans of Iraq and Afghan wars. Not only did they face the dangers in the battlefield, but they were breathing toxic smoke and burn pits, where they would be with their base,” Biden said.

Burn pits were used to incinerate all sorts of waste, hazardous material and chemical compounds at military sites throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. Eighty-six percent of post-9/11 veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan say they were exposed to burn pits, according to a 2020 survey by the nonprofit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The President also outlined the administration’s approach to assist veterans dealing with health conditions that could be a result of environmental exposures while serving in the military, saying in his speech, “If the science is — even if it’s evenly divided — when the evidence doesn’t give a clear answer one way or another, the decision we should favor is caring for our veterans while we continue to learn more, not waiting.”

Biden said there are many veterans who are reluctant to seek benefits or address potential problems.

“What I found with my son, what I found with my friends, what I found with the generation in Vietnam was this notion that you never — you shouldn’t ask for anything. You’re military — you don’t ask, you just serve. You should be asking. You should be letting us know. You should let us know what is bothering you, what is the problem, because we owe it to you,” Biden said. “You’re the best, and we owe you.”

Tuesday’s visit was tied to his new unity agenda unveiled during his State of the Union address last week, a set of issues that he says “go beyond partisan politics.” The plan has four pillars: combating the opioid epidemic, addressing mental health, supporting military veterans and ending cancer.

Along with his speech, Biden also visited the Fort Worth Veterans Affairs Clinic, speaking with veterans, caregivers and survivors about several issues.

During last week’s State of the Union address, Biden listed “breathing in toxic smoke from burn pits” as one of the many dangers US troops faced in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“And they came home, many of the world’s fittest and best trained warriors in the world, never the same. Headaches. Numbness. Dizziness. A cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin,” Biden said, later adding, “One of those soldiers was my son Maj. Beau Biden. I don’t know for sure if the burn pit that he lived near, that his hooch was near in Iraq — and before that in Kosovo — is the cause of his brain cancer — the diseases of so many of our troops. But I’m committed to finding out everything we can.”

Following the President’s direction last November to complete a review of rare cancers and provide recommendations about whether they were connected to military service, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced last week that it would propose a rule to add nine rare respiratory cancers as service-connected disabilities for veterans who served any amount of time in what the agency calls “the Southwest Asia theater of operations.”

Texas GOP Congressman Jake Ellzey, whose district includes suburban Dallas and part of Fort Worth, traveled with Biden aboard Air Force One to Fort Worth, along with Texas Democratic Reps. Colin Allred and Marc Veasey. Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough is also traveling with Biden.

During his speech, the President extended an olive branch to Ellzey, telling the audience, “Jake’s a Republican, but I like the hell out of him. Jake’s the real deal.”

The VA said last week that qualifying veterans who had their claims previously denied are encouraged to file new or supplemental claims once the rule-making process is complete.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2021, which addresses several matters related to veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their time in the military. The legislation now faces the Senate.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Paul LeBlanc, Donald Judd and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

CNN Newsource


KVIA ABC 7 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content